Monday, November 25, 2013

Wonder-full Faces

Last Friday was our last rotation of classes designing and creating flying machines. Give or take a few absences, approximately 380 kids have come into our John Muir Community Science Workshop and have built and launched flying machines, studied plants or animals on the screen of a digital microscope, tinkered with circuit boards, manipulated magnets, pendulums, balancing sticks, bubbles, simulated tornadoes, and generally 'played' with science. These wonder-full faces are watching their first flight launch. I love my Dad for building our magnificent wind tube with me and if I ever need reassurance that I'm doing exactly what I'm supposed to, I can look at this awesome picture, and know. 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Toys from Trash

On Wednesday, 11/20/13, we had 22 kids show up at our Workshop! A pretty significant increase from 6 kids the week before. Earlier in the week, I had the pleasure of visiting with Mission Science Workshop's incredibly talented & awesome instructors Sam Haynor & Aaron Martin, who both gave me plenty of fun ideas to share with students. First I observed Aaron show a class of first graders about solids, liquids and gases. I didn't realize how many cool ways there are to experience states of matter - the kids & I really enjoyed the lesson. Afterwards, I sat down with Sam who gave me idea after idea after idea for fantastically fun science experiments and observations. I could've watched that blue ice cube melt into little blue blobs sliding through oil for a lot longer...except Sam started showing me all the toys you can make from stuff like straws, cardboard, plastic bags - whatever's around; my favorite being the straw oboe, which pales by comparison to the one Mr. Gupta demonstrates in his TED talk embedded below. Sam had recently visited with Arvind Gupta in India to learn first hand of his gift for making science learning materials out of anything you have on hand. Sam also shared a very empowering philosophy; he doesn't answer student's questions, but encourages them to make their observations. He said if you tell a curious student the answer, they become satiated and may feel like they've mastered that idea so they stop investigating further.
Fresh with a few new ideas, I devoted our Workshop to making 'toys from trash'. Out of a few plastic bags, string, tape and cardboard, some very cool catapult parachutes were made - which were excellent to watch as the kids launched them through the wind tube. 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Sound Looks Beautiful

"Music sounds AND looks beautiful!" - announced a boy who saw what his voice looked like as sound waves on our oscilloscope. Six kids found their way to the first open hours at the Workshop yesterday. Some kids saw what the world looks like through a bug's eye. One girl was fixated on the water table learning how water moves through pipes, not as fast as she expected it to. Our youngest visitor was captivated by what pond water looks like under a microscope - it's ALIVE.... and we all think it's super cool to mix oil and dyed water with alca-seltzer - thanks Ken Wesson for the idea. Some kids worked on the marble wall while two seasoned Workshop students parked at the Make-It table, engineering their next cardboard creation. There's something unsettling and exciting about unscheduled, open-ended learning.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Our First Science Friday!

Today was awesome. We had 150 kids come through the doors of the John Muir Community Science Workshop. After I gave my “Welcome to your Workshop and What is Science?” opening, I told the students we were going to make flying machines and launch them through our wind tube. For K-2 graders, I asked them to name things that fly and asked whether or not it was made by people or nature. We talked about different reasons for flying machines and their different shapes. For 3-5 graders we talked about the wind tube and how the air flowing through it was a type of fluid, just like at the water slides how the water pushes you through a tube or a slide, the wind will push up a flying machine. Gravity is pushing down at the same time so we talked about characteristics of the flying machines and the forces at play; we also talked about thrust, wingspan and aerodynamics. Each class spent about 10-15 minutes designing and building their creations. Once during the 4th grade class I had to step out for a minute and when I came back several students were using scissors. The kids with scissors were much more creative with their designs and also had a lot more mess to clean up. The best design was a cylindrical tube with a flat surface on the bottom and wings - just like a rocket - go figure. They had a half piece of construction paper, some string, pipe-cleaners, craft sticks masking tape and crayons. 
It worked well to keep them busy for most of the time they were there. Some kids were able to go outside in the back of the Workshop and explore the water table, the bubble tray, the marble wall and to look for bugs under a magnifying glass. Some kids just zoomed their rockets around outside. 
We had two extra interns from New Leaf come to job shadow to see if they are interested, so we had 3 high school interns to help all day and they were terrific. We also had the help of our New Leaf graduate/ intern coordinator and wind tube operator as well as a parent volunteer. So considering we had 6 people plus the teacher to help - the day went smoothly. 
It was the most fulfilling day I remember having in a really long time. There were so many happy faces excited about the space and everything in it. This was really, an incredible day - feeling blessed.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Workshop Prep - Layers of the Atmosphere

Students came to the Workshop Friday to help paint the wind tube. Our intern Eric (pictured here working hard to recreate the math game HEX) had the awesome idea to label the layers of the atmosphere on the way up the tube - so we start with what we see on the ground here on planet Earth - grass, trees and animals - then climb to the Troposphere, where we might find a hot air balloon, the Stratosphere where a plane might be, the Mesosphere where the shooting stars burn out, and the Thermosphere, where a satellite might be. We haven't added the Exosphere or the Pauses yet... and we've had suggestions to add distance between the layers in miles. It's a work in progress but coming along and the kids are all excited about it.